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Sole trader

A 100-year-old Australian boot business is looking to the future. CampdenFB talks to Rossi boots about keeping Australians well-shod for three generations.
Dean Rossiter, third-generation family business leader of Rossi Boots

"When a block-splitter axe falls on your toe, you’ll forever appreciate the quality of a Rossi boot.” So says one of the advertising slogans of Rossi Boots, with that mix of bluntness and brio that can only be Australian. Rossi is a classic tale of Aussie entrepreneurship – the business was started in 1910 in a tin shed (where else?) in an Adelaide backyard by Arthur Rossiter. Over a century on, the third generation of the family is still ensuring that Australian feet are – as another slogan puts it – in good hands.

Rossi boots are famous in their homeland, and worn pretty much by everyone “in the working environment”, says Dean Rossiter – the grandson of the firm’s founder. And in Australia, that means miners, sheep-shearers, chefs, security organisation workers, the military and the police. “We make functional footwear and products for a purpose,” Rossiter says.

It’s not all work, though. Rossis were also famous to generations of Australians for making football and cricket boots (fittingly, the current factory is on Sir Donald Bradman Drive, named after the country’s most famous batsman), and also “fashion” boots. Its reputation has spread far and wide, and these days the business produces 250,000 pairs of boots a year.

Rossiter is justly proud of the firm’s tradition and its status as a family business. “We are a family organisation,” he says. “We have many staff members who have worked with us for 50 years and many more who have worked at Rossi for 40 years. We have husband and wife teams, and parents and children working for us – it is truly a family firm.”

The 69-year-old has been involved in the business for so long that he says he doesn’t really remember when he first started. “I was working at the company as a kid during my holidays as an experience to see the things I could do in the factory,” he says. But he hasn’t spent his whole life as a boot-maker. He completed a PhD in physics in Canada in the early 1970s before returning to Australia to work fulltime at the family business.

It’s that scientific background that is ensuring Rossi is prepared for the 21st century. Rossiter has brought in the most modern production technology, including a state-of-the-art waterjet cutter – although he ensured automation didn’t mean laying off any of the 90 staff. He has introduced better stock-control systems that have improved the firm’s profitability, and turnover is about AUS$13 million (€10.5 million) a year.

Under Rossiter’s stewardship the business has also become an international one – that very particular Aussie ruggedness has proved so appealing that the firm now exports its boots to 16 countries. Unsurprisingly, Rossi’s Aussie identity is extremely important to the brand, and to its head. The company boasts that it is the only shoemaker in the country that has kept its production fully Australian. As Rossiter says: “Rossi Boots walk the walk of ‘made in Australia’”. 

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